Maxwell britten 400x400 Maxwell Britten New York The Django Food and Drink

Maxwell Britten

Occupation Managing Partner, The Django at The Roxy Hotel

Hometown Tucson, Arizona

Current Residence Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

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Maxwell Britten has made a name for himself in New York as an authority in the bar industry. He is a beverage professional and entrepreneur who counts a James Beard Award among his list of successes. New York is his town, and when it comes to food and drink specifically, Maxwell is your man. Below, he shares his favorite spots in Manhattan and Brooklyn and what makes each notable.

WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY BE? 
If It Isn’t Difficult, Don’t Do it.

WHAT CAN’T YOU TRAVEL WITHOUT AND WHY?
Pomade and a comb because I’ve got to take care of this mane.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATION AND WHY? 
Spain. There are many places I have traveled that have been life-changing, beautiful and breathtaking and Spain can be all those things, too, but I just love the vibe. Maybe it’s the food, the wine or the siestas that speak to me but I just love it there and feel so at home every time I visit.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN NYC?
Bergdorf Goodman restaurant, 7th floor, high tea and a side of champagne.

IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE PERSON TO SHOW YOU “THEIR NEW YORK CITY,” WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?  
Anthony Bourdain. There are a lot of really amazing people I would also enjoy this with but I think he would be the most interesting and fun. After he passed there was a very heavy sadness in the food/beverage/hospitality community, understandably so. I’ve always loved his shows, his writing and just how much appetite he had for everything. He was a wildcard and a rebel; someone that rejected conventionalism on so many levels. His conviction for his beliefs, the people that he championed and the fact he was in a lot of ways the people’s chef is what made him the guy I looked up to. In my career, I was always a degree of separation from him—found myself in the same room on a number of occasions but was always afraid to introduce myself. I once served him drinks when I was the bar director at Maison Premiere and still regret not talking to him so I think having the chance to actually get to know him and see what New York City looks like from his perspective would be pretty special.   

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU RECENTLY AND WHY? 
I got to meet and have dinner with James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Alexander Smalls recently. He is originally from the South but has worked as restaurateur in New York City for decades. He is the co-founder and owner of Minton’s, a very well-known Jazz Club in Harlem. As a business partner to a jazz club myself, it was so exciting to meet someone else who has that experience. It’s much more common to be able to have peers who own bars and restaurants but not so much as far as jazz clubs. That’s very niche. So getting to meet someone that knows about the same challenges I’m confronted by as a venue operator was cool. In addition to his accomplishments as a culinary leader, he is also formerly an opera singer, which is almost unheard of (although there have been some) for an African American male, so it was very cool to hear about his experience as a performer, as well.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE NYC RESTAURANTS? WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE? 
Hard question. I know I am missing a ton here… River Café—Caviar Service. This is one of the best views in NYC and in my opinion one of the most iconic restaurants in our city. It is a true classic and has never disappointed me. The food is good but if you can pull off skipping your pre-fixe and doing a bottle of champagne with caviar at one of the window tables, you will not regret it. Also, it’s where I proposed to my fiancée. She said yes, so the spot is a charmer.

Via Carota—cacio e pepe. Rita Sodi and Jody Williams are powerhouse chef-owners of this staple of a restaurant. The environment, the vibe, the décor, and the lighting are perfectly done. I am all about the late-night drive-by for a glass of wine and pasta at the bar, but going during the daytime when its good weather on the patio on that beautiful little street is something to be coveted as well. 

Frenchette—soft scrambled eggs and snails. Chef-owners Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr are both super talented. The thought, time and dedication they put into creating this incredible and original restaurant in Tribeca is just amazing. They have this kind of carnal but elegant way of making French food. It’s easy just to be another classic French Bistro or Brasserie but they went for it and did something really delicious and unique. 

Lucali—classic cheese pizza, and a garlic calzone. One of the most original and best pizza’s New York has to offer, and that’s saying a lot for New York. Chef-owner Mark Iacono makes every pie himself. I have so much admiration and respect for that kind of love for your work. You can taste it. Every time I go, he is pouring over dough and flour by candlelight. It’s definitely a treasure.

Keens—chateaubriand. There are a lot of contenders for the best steakhouse in NYC. That’s a tough one. Keens has been an institution since 1885. It’s got so many stories to tell and those stories are all around you when you are in there. It’s where you go when you really want to celebrate or show off in one of the most historic steakhouses New York City has to offer.

Russ & Daughters—toasted everything bagel, lox, cream cheese. They have the best lox in town and the bagels are incredible. It is one of our historic landmark food destinations. It’s also great to see when businesses that have been passed down generation by generation and are still thriving. It’s also where you should go if you want to know what a real New York delicatessen is like.

WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO SPOT IN NYC FOR DRINKS?
Holy smokes these are hard questions. Wine Bars that I love: Four Horseman—great selection, very well-curated. They have great food as well if you want a meal, also great playlist; Les Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels—this is where you go if you want to experience a really deep list of French wine. I am all about champagne and they have some incredible cuvées here. 

Cocktail Bars: Donna—It’s an open and very well-designed space. Go there for the great location (South Williamsburg) and the Brancaloda (Frozen Pina Colada made with Fernet Branca). Great service too; Katana Kitten—this is a super fun Japanese cocktail bar in the West Village. The drinks are great but I really go for the environment. The guest and the team there just have a great time. Say hi to Masa Urushido, he owns the place and you can see him enjoying himself and his guests most nights; Bemelmans Bar—this is another NYC institution. It’s expensive and way uptown on the Upper East Side. The drinks are okay. You go for the vibe. Everything from the lampshades to the walls are famously illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans who is best known as the illustrator of the Madeline books. It’s a very classic scene and very far from what all of the progressive cocktail bars are like downtown and in Brooklyn; Caffe Dante—this is such a cool spot. It’s been established since 1915 and the new owners took it over but kept the vibe and façade as genuinely possible. They are known for their work with Italian spirits and vermouth. If I were you I would grab a few Aperol Spritz and do some people watching on the patio tables.

Dives: Sunny’s Bar—this is in Red Hook so you have to very intentionally want to go here. This is pretty straightforward, it’s Budweiser’s and shots over here. It’s supposedly the oldest bar in Brooklyn and I think it’s true. It’s also just a really authentic place. It’s a very local vibe, so be cool, don’t order anything weird and have your cash ready above all.  

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE NYC BRUNCH SPOTS; WHAT DO YOU ORDER WHEN YOU GO?  
I can’t really speak to all of my go-to items but these are some of my go-to spots and why I like them. Dumbo House—killer spread, killer view; Jeffrey’s Grocery—big tall windows, delicious food; Prune—bloody mary menu, bone marrow; Egg—cheese omelet; Roxy Hotel—okay okay maybe I am biased but there just aren’t really any great New York City hotels that are really doing an authentic hotel buffet brunch like The Roxy. I just haven’t seen it in NYC like the way they do it. It’s great for a date or a large group. You can really spend the whole day hanging out since it’s so comfy and all the non-stop tasty treats. 

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR ART FIX IN NYC? DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ARTIST?
I have to say my preferred art medium is film. There are way too many great theaters all over town (happen to have one right next store to my place of work *wink* Roxy Hotel Cinema). If I want to get lost in more of a traditional art experience, the Met is the best and obvious choice in my opinion. I do love the Neue Galerie and Brooklyn Museum as close seconds as well. 

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE LATE-NIGHT HANGOUTS IN NYC? 
I have a neighborhood local that I can’t stay away from called Mekelburgs. It’s a grocery store-bar. They also serve an incredible off-menu hot fried chicken sandwich only after 11pm. It’s tough business drinking at a bar and then walking into a grocery store to leave and you run into all kinds of tasty things that you have to buy.

Blue Ribbon Sullivan Street—they have full-service dinner until 4am. There is nothing more New York than being able to eat a pile of oysters with a martini in hand in a busy restaurant at 2:30 in the morning. 

Jackbar—this is a little divey. I am a pinball fanatic. This is a great spot for me when I need to wind down solo. Grab a beer, saddle up on a pinball machine and blow off some steam.

Joe’s Pizza—this is a great after-hours spot for a slice. Considered to be one of the best in town, they reliably keep their doors open late at various locations. It’s not so much a hang-out spot but it is a clutch late-night move.

Pegu Club—this place is one of the original bars of the NYC cocktail movement. They really pioneered and gave inspiration and experience to some of the greatest people in the alcohol-beverage industry today. Drinks are always on point and it’s just a very cool spot to sit down late-night, soak up a Manhattan variation (get The Little Italy) and enjoy a really well-made drink in a classically intimate late-night cocktail bar.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNDER-THE-RADAR MUST-DO RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NYC VISITORS?  
Take a ferry, anywhere. Try taking the one from downtown Manhattan to Red Hook; choose from the various and contentiously delicious pizza we can offer. There are too many to list and I don’t want to get in trouble for this one so you need to look up Scott’s Pizza Tours. This is a really cool way to try a lot of things and ask one of the top NYC pizza experts whatever you want to know; go see live Jazz at The Django at The Roxy Hotel. We have some of the greatest Jazz musicians from New York City and beyond and you will be missing out one of the best jazz clubs in town if you don’t come; have a Nathan’s Hot Dog at the original Nathan’s Hot Dog stand in Coney Island; look up Third Rail Projects, they do the best immersive theater in town. Skip the Lion King and find one of these plays that let you be a part of the show.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE NYC STORES AND WHY? 
10 Ft. Single by Stella Dallas is probably the best vintage shop in Brooklyn. Their attention to detail and selection of hand-picked pieces is unparalleled. Tommy Guns is an incredible hair salon known for their classic sensibilities and respect for tradition. It’s the kind of place you can have a beer and a hot shave but you can also get shampoos, a blowout, coloration, etc. They serve both women and men very well. No matter if you’re from New York or a visitor you should grab a cup of coffee and take in an afternoon at The Strand bookstore. In today’s age, used bookstores are a dying breed and this is our most famous one. Brooklyn Flea Market is awesome. Vendors from all over bring their tomes of vintage everything: clothes, records, rugs, sports paraphernalia and more. They also always have really solid local food vendors as well. I usually like to grab a bite and walk around for some top quality window shopping. It’s pretty inspiring actually. If you are into really nice perfume and cologne, check out Aedes de Venustas. They have the best selection of boutique perfumers I have ever seen. They also have great candles, too. Bring your wallet.

WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING TO THESE DAYS? WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE MUSICIANS?  
Robert Glasper- Covered (Live). He produced and composed the music for the Miles Davis Biopic, Miles Ahead. He has also done a ton of really awesome albums and has produced and collaborated with a lot of artists I really like. Steve Hauschildt-Dissolvi. This dude is best known as an electronic musician. But his work is very compositional. It has some heavy Steve Reich feels. I get really into how cerebral and tactile the album is. It kind of reminds me of the movie, Tron which I love….Beck, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, The Cure, Broken Social Scene, Radiohead, Dinosaur Jr., Blackstar, Devo, Violent Femmes, David Bowie are among some of my favorite artists that have been really influential on me for long periods of my life.

WHAT SONG OR ALBUM WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK TO NYC? 
Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man did a collaboration track on Ready To Die called, “The What.” It’s smooth but with that East Coast bim bap sound and really gravelly lyrics. “It’s the low killer death trap, yes I’m a jet-black ninja. Coming where you rest at, surrender. Step inside the ring, you’re the number one contender.” It reminds me that New York is a grind— you’ve got to be hard but if you follow your aspirations it can be really rewarding.

WHEN YOU THINK OF NYC ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR EMOTIONS OF MEMORIES THAT IMMEDIATELY COME TO MIND? 
In some ways, I have become very intimate with this humongous, fun, beautiful, scary place and in other ways the city eludes me. Like, if I have a moment where I think I’ve “made it,” I’ll come out of that pretty soon: New York City is bigger than you and sometimes it has to let you know. I feel like I have lived a lifetime here. Other times I feel like I am still a baby learning how it works. I had a lot of right place at the right time experiences when I first moved here. I was very lucky. It’s kind of cathartic to look back on all that has happened since then. I just wish I had known a little better how special some of those moments were as they passed.

Best Rate Promise
Soho Grand Hotel

310 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013

(212) 965-3000
The Roxy Hotel Tribeca

2 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10013

212.519.6600